I arrived in Paris around 7:30pm with excitement and a new confidence in now knowing exactly what I needed to do to get back to the city. Follow the signs for the RER train. Buy a ticket from the kiosk. I would need to change trains to reach my final destination, but I knew exactly when and where. Sort of.
So I’m standing in line to get my ticket and there’s an English-speaking Indian couple attempting to ask the ticket agent for assistance. She was dismissive and left them standing there looking confused and generally lost. Having lucked out, apparently, in having a friendly ticket agent around for my first time, I asked where they were trying to get to. They said they just wanted to get into the city. I said I’d help. We walked over to the kiosk and I showed them how to buy two train tickets. #parismetropro They were grateful. Then I got my own ticket and made it onto the train just seconds before it left.
We reach the station where I’m changing trains but this was a giant train station unlike any I’d been in before. So it took me a second to get my bearings and figure out where I needed to go. But I did. Ok. I was on my way. Just a few more stops to my destination. And I was so hungry! I had steak frites on the brain big time.
We arrive and I’m making my way out of the train station like a mole trying to figure out which tunnel leads to daylight. This train station was one of the bigger ones I’d been to with like 6 possible exits that wound around until I finally just picked one. I lugged my bags up the steps and got outside. Just in time to see the sun setting behind the Arc de Triomphe! Paris welcomed me back beautifully.
It was about a 10 minute walk to my hotel, a cute boutique hotel not too far from the Champs Elysses. I had made a to do list for myself for my last day in Paris and walking the Champs was on that list, so I chose my hotel accordingly. I checked into my room, a teeny room just big enough to fit a double bed and a desk. The bathroom was so small you could touch the shower with your foot while sitting on the toilet. I did not attempt this, I’m just trying to explain how small it was.
I had asked the front desk guy where to eat and he said there was a little place around the corner called Villa Sophia that was good and reasonably priced. I was definitely staying in one of the more expensive areas of Paris this time around – it reminded me of Park Ave in New York. So reasonable meant 19 euros for steak frites. Fine by me.
The thing I noticed about the steak in Paris is they don’t really season it. The bearnaise sauce is key here (and they never really give you what seems to be a reasonable amount, so you really have to allocate it perfectly). Also, on the menu it’s called a “faux filet” which I think is really funny, since we usually associate the word faux with “fake.” But it’s actually a strip steak (not too much unlike a KC strip, only thinner). So I ate my fake meat and the frites – they were so hot I could hardly eat them at first but then I did and it made me sweat to be eating hot potatoes. It also came with a nice lettuce salad – butter lettuce with tomatoes and a ranch dressing. I was completely satisfied.
I walked back to the hotel then, as it was already 10:30 and I’d had a long day of traveling and would have an even longer day tomorrow, and crashed in what I think was the most comfy bed I slept in the entire trip.
The final day.
I was up at a reasonable time, got myself ready for the day and then organized my luggage as best as I could in preparation for the flight home later. My room rate included breakfast so I ate my final breakfast baguette with the amazing butter and preserves. Enjoyed my final cafe creme.
Sigh. Time to get moving.
As I mentioned, I had a to do list for my final day, which included:
- Walk the Champs Elysses
- Take more photos of the Eiffel Tower
- Go to Longchamps
- Souvenir shopping (which had a sublist of its own, including buying a Paris magnet for my collection).
I had five hours to get everything done. I started by walking over to the Eiffel Tower. Even though I’d already seen it multiple times (it’s like a giant stalker that peeks out behind trees and buildings when you least expect it) I still found myself in awe as I approached it for one final time. And I got some great photos too! Ok, one thing done.
I decided to then walk over to the end of the Champs and make my way up toward the Arc, doing some shopping along the way. I walked down the Avenue de New York which runs along the north side of the seine, stopping to take some additional photos along the way. As I was coming up to one of the major intersections I saw what looked like the flame from the Statue of Liberty’s torch on a little island in the middle of the intersection. I had to investigate.
I read the plaque that explained that this was indeed an exact replica of the flame, appropriately situated on the Avenue de New York. But what I was not expecting was what I noticed next.
It makes me ache just a little bit to even look at this photo again. If you look closely you’ll see photos of Princess Diana and flowers which were placed all around the base of the flame. There is a handwritten sign explaining that the tunnel located just behind the flame (I was actually standing on top of it – the exit is behind the flame) is where Diana was injured in the car crash that caused her death. It was so humbling to be standing there reading this in exact place it happened. There were others there with me but no one really spoke.
I continued toward and finally reached the Champs Elysses. And I have to say, I was a little underwhelmed. It was not the romantic, tree lined boulevard that I pictured. It was more like walking down the street in Vegas, with fewer drunks and flashing lights. Or like Rodeo drive, only taller and wider. It was all shopping and restaurants and tourists. The very essence I was hoping for was completely overridden by a flurry of consumer activity.
But. There was one thing that redeemed my experience on the Champs.
Yes, this is the place where dreams come true. Laduree. One of the queens of French patisserie, and in particular, my personal favorite, the French macaron. This is THE Laduree. I’ve been to the one in NYC. But this is the real one. There’s a bar and cafe inside (and also an outdoor cafe).
I stood in line to select my macarons. What should I get? I was feeling budget conscious since I was down to my last 20 euros and I still need lunch. I selected chocolate black currant, basil lime, and salted caramel. They were all dreamy, but I’m gonna be honest, I think my salted caramel is better. #humblebrag
But these pastries! Ooh la la!
So I completed my to do list in just 3 hours, leaving me 2 hours before I needed to leave for the airport. I stopped for lunch and had my last jambon fromage baguette. I savored every bite. I was sitting outside the cafe just eating and watching people and reflecting on my trip when it hit me. Paris was my favorite. I visited some amazing and impressive places during this trip. But in Paris, I felt at home. I like the culture and the energy there. I like the vibe and the personalities of the different neighborhoods. I’m already contemplating (or should I say anticipating) a return trip. Maybe in the spring.
I was walking back to my hotel to gather my things so I could then walk back the way I came from to catch the train to the airport (not the best planning but whatever) when I happened upon this adorable little boutique. I still had a few minutes to spare so I went inside. The woman inside spoke a bit of English so we both put our language skills to the test and were able to have a decent conversation. She pointed me towards this brightly colored, beautiful, flowy shirt dress which she thought would be the perfect size for me. It was a little more than I’d wanted to spend on a dress but I tried it on. It fit perfectly. I came out of the fitting room and she agreed – “I don’t know why you wouldn’t get it” she said. So I did. We talked about her dream of visiting New York City, “the 66 road” and the desert. I told her how much I loved Paris. She told me to make sure I come by next time I’m there.
I returned to the hotel and spent the next 10 minutes trying to rearrange the content of my bags to make everything fit (I would check my carry-on sized suitcase and carry on two small totes). All of my bags were bursting at the seams – one of them didn’t even close. But off I went, lugging all of my things back to the train and then back to the airport.
I had gotten upgraded to first class, so the rest of the travel was a breeze. I got priority check in which meant I skipped ahead of the 100 other people in line. I went up to the lounge to have a glass of wine and a snack before boarding. I made it through security with no issues. And then I got on the plane next to this super weird lady who applied lotion at least 4-5 times over the 7 hour flight, sometimes not even rubbing it in all the way on her face. They fed us two dinners on the plane. One after we took off (local dinner time) and then one before we landed (destination dinner time). We landed at what would have been 2am Paris time. By the time I got through customs (which was simple) and got my bag (which I waited on for 5 years) it was 3am. I hadn’t slept on the plane. I was running on the adrenaline and excitement of being back (even though I wasn’t really ready to be). I fell into bed at my friends’ house near Boston at 4:30am Paris time (10:30pm ET). What a day! What a trip!
Even though the travel is over I still have more to say, so stay tuned to the blog for additional insights and tips!